Thursday, May 10, 2012

Lagging Skills and Unsolved Problems

I spent the day learning about Ross Greene's approach for working with children. We talked a lot about how children will be successful when they can and it is our job to first identify the lagging skills and unsolved problems that are causing difficulty. 

One of the tools Ross Greene's approach uses is the Assessment of Lagging Skills and Unsolved Problems. Using this tool, I wrote a sample case formulation or what could be an Individual Program Plan based on Ross Greene's approach.

Sample Case Formulation
Individual Program Plan

A summary of some key lagging skills, perhaps those that are contributing to challenging behaviour most often or maybe those on which caregivers can most easily agree:
Nolan has difficulty managing his emotions in response to frustration so as to think rationally... isn't very good at appreciating how his behaviour is affecting others and recognizing how he's coming across... and difficulty empathizing with others, appreciating another person's perspective or point of view.
Emphasize that these lagging skills are especially problematic in the conditions (unsolved problems) in which they are demanded by the environment. Specify some of these conditions:
Nolan tends to run into difficulty when these lagging skills are demanded. So he has a lot of trouble shifting from computer time during language arts to putting the computer away and going to physical education. It's very hard for him to learn cooperatively with his classmates... he often has difficulty compromising on ideas with others without pushing his ideas on others and getting very frustrated. And then he can't figure out why others are mad at him. When playing floor hockey, Nolan has difficulty negotiating the interpretation of the rules with his peers such as offsides, goals and high sticking. Has difficulty coping and forgiving others for wronging or hurting him by accident without getting very angry.
Underscore that challenging behaviours occur in response to these unsolved problems, that the manner in which the adults are presently going about trying to solve them is making things worse and solving no problems durably, and that the unsolved problems are highly predictable:
These unsolved problems cause Nolan to become quite frustrated, and that's when he is likely to exhibit challenging behaviours, like crying, hitting, isolating himself from others and swearing. When we remind Nolan of how we expect him to act - or reprimand or punish him for not meeting those expectations - it only makes things worse... and doesn't help Nolan solve any of the problems over which he's becoming upset. Fortunately, since his unsolved problems are highly predictable, we don't need to try solving them in the heat of the moment.
Check to ensure that there is a consensus and that the case formulation (or Individual Program Plan) accurately summarizes the deliberations of the group:
Does this sound like a good summary of what we've been saying about Nolan?
Point out that the goal of intervention is to solve these problems collaboratively so they no longer precipitate challenging behaviour and so that lagging skills are taught, at least indirectly:

Our goal is to begin solving some of these problems with Nolan's help, so that he's involved in helping us understand what's getting in the way for him and he's also involved in coming up with solutions that will work for him and for us. Once the problems are solved, they won't set in motion challenging behaviour any more. And if we solve the problems collaboratively, then Nolan will start to learn some of the skills he's lacking.


I see all this as an important shift in mindset. It is so tempting to focus on a child's behaviour and to theorize, hypothesize and develop stories around why those behaviours are occurring, but none of this is helpful in supporting the child develop the skills they need to better navigate their day. Instead, we are far better off using our limited time, effort and resources to identify the skills children lag along with the situations and unsolved problems that are demanding these lagging skills.

Once we identify the lagging skills and unsolved problems, we jump into Ross Greene's approach for working with children.

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